How to Write a Law
You'll never hear the word "lawmaker" the same again
See the Spring 2024 overview, with all class summaries, here.
What you will know how to do, and have done, by the end of the class
General class structure and information
Class expectations and etiquette
About your instructor
Applications are open from January 3 until January 26 (5pm EST); they will be accepted on a rolling basis, and sooner is definitely better. Popular classes will be repeated in April and May, and those applications will open in early March.
I’ll inform all applicants of their status, successful or not, by January 26 or sooner. I aim to answer each application within a week of its submission. If you have not heard back from me by then, feel free to shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time: 6:30-8:30pm, Thursdays, February 8—March 7 (5 weeks)
Location: near Madison Square Park
Prerequisites: None, although Foundations of New York City would be useful (these can be taken concurrently, and would work well together)
Completion reqs: final sit-down exam, all homework, no more than one absence
Tuition: $160, $260, or $360. Select the option appropriate for you.
What you will know how to do, and have done, by the end of the class
Write basic statutes for New York City. If students have very special interest in other levels of government, I will accommodate those.
Read and understand law at any level of government in general terms.
You will understand critical technical terminology in the field of legislative drafting, and will be set up to explore the field independently on your own.
You will understand the role of legislators, staff, lobbyists, and others in crafting legislation. A lot goes into a bill becoming a law.
So much more!
General Class Structure and Information
Meeting Time & Place
Class will meet for two hours (6:30-8:30pm) on Thursday, beginning February 8 and ending March 7. Our classroom is near Madison Square Park.
Classes will be structured as seminars, not lectures. The overall arc of the course begins by introducing critical terms and ideas, reading legislation, writing legislation, consolidating knowledge, and ends with an exam.
There will be breaks about every 30 minutes. Eat snacks and do what you need to do then. And since class will be in the winter, and people will be coming in from the cold: please make sure to blow your nose and clear out sniffles before class, and as needed.
You cannot miss more than one of the five class sessions. But if something comes up, just let me know and we can improvise.
If you are going to be late to class, you will need to text or email me with your approximate ETA. Don’t feel embarrassed or squirrely about being late, just let me know so I can conduct class accordingly.
Class Preparation & Homework:
There will be readings for each class, small class projects, and a final exam that is graded pass/fail. Plan to allocate at least 2-4 hours a week for this work. Final exams will be taken during your last class. If you fail the exam, you fail the class—but you can retake it once.
You will have to create a Substack blog for all classes (reasonable substitutions can be accommodated). Each week’s homework will include one Substack post that will be reviewed by me. While I encourage students to keep their blogs public and share their progress, you can make your blog private too. You must complete all of these assignments to pass the class.
Students will be highly encouraged to attend at least one New York City Council committee meeting where a potential local law is being discussed. If students cannot attend during the five weeks of the class, they should consider their education incomplete until they witness a committee hearing in person. But it’s fun and cool to go watch, and I’ll go with you, even if you can’t go until after the class is over.
Join the Maximum New York Discord. Class participants will be added to a Maximum New York Discord server, which will be our primary mode of communication for coursework, office hours, and general discussion. There will be a code of conduct you need to accept to join the Discord, similar to the class expectations and etiquette outlined in the next section.
And after the course, the real fun of government and politics begins. It’s an open world.
Class Expectations & Etiquette
Classes are open to anyone who wants to improve the capacity of NYC’s government, with an end toward making NYC larger, more wealthy (both absolutely and per capita), more opportunity-rich, and more enjoyable for everyone. Maybe you want to get deeply involved in politics. Maybe you’re just intellectually curious. Maybe you’re somewhere in between. You’re welcome in any case.
The classroom environment I encourage is one of exploration, curiosity, playfulness, and charity/tolerance; if you have dug-in political ideas, you need to let those go, at least for the duration of the class. We are here to learn how things work first and foremost, although larger questions of political philosophy absolutely come into play at various points. You should think about politics as a systems problem with no perfect solutions, but still plenty of good ones.
This class has four formal rules of etiquette that you must follow:
Politics is a good word, and a potentially beautiful thing. We are here to learn how to do government as friends, in a chill fashion, even while dealing with weighty issues.
No bullshitting, aka be concrete. We’re all here to learn together, but we’re doing it in a rigorous fashion. You must always strive to deeply understand the reality of governance that underpins your political thought.
Extend grace to everyone. We’re here to learn together. Government and politics are complicated fields, and no one knows everything. We will be better, together.
Anger is the rare exception, and a friendly “what the hell” is the norm. Taking things seriously does not mean being mad about them. The wider world can pressure people to get mad to prove that they take political ideas seriously. I do not equate anger with either sophistication or dedication, so I relieve you of that burden. Make jokes, be serious, push back, learn a lot. But give yourself (and others) a break while you’re in class.
About Your Instructor
Hello, my name is Daniel Golliher (goll- as in the gall, the nerve, and the audacity; iher- as in how they say “your” where I come from: Gol-yer). I’ve lived in New York City for five years. Besides my writing on this website, you can learn more about me on Twitter, and my personal blog. I’ve written a few books, play the piano and sax, enjoy all manner of physical fitness, and can’t wait to meet you.
I graduated from Harvard College in 2014 with a degree in Government1, and since then I’ve worked in the legal industry, a coffee shop, higher ed, the legal industry again, and now I dedicate my time to Maximum New York.
The following is a general outline of subjects that we will cover in class. Additions and subtractions will be made according to student interest and competency.
Class 1: Basic concepts and ideas
Hierarchy of authorities, or “What is the law?”
How laws interact to create an emergent legal effect. No individual law exists in a vacuum. Its ultimate effect depends on its interactions with other laws and the populace. We will briefly discuss how bill drafters try to anticipate these effects.
Consolidated versus unconsolidated law (generally, and as part of any individual statute), and the history of getting all laws into the same “book”
Codified versus uncodified law
Treaties, executive orders/memoranda/guidance letters, private bills, and other less commonly discussed forms of law.
Class activity: draw Venn diagrams that show how all of these concepts nest and overlap.
We will read through a series of basic laws together.
We will discuss the tools and methods of legal research: where do you find the law, where is it compiled, and more. Lesson: there are many ways to present the same law (session versus code, and more), and many publishers republish them. It can seem like there is much more than there is, but don’t panic.
Legal philosophy: Lon Fuller’s principals of legality, and a brief aside about the canons of statutory construction.
Class 2: Zooming in on what we previewed last time, and legislative drafting
The field of legislative drafting, and prominent figures therein.
What is a bill drafting manual?
Readings from three bill drafting manuals: New York City’s City Council, New York State’s Legislature, and the U.S. House of Representatives. How are they the same, how are they different?
Review: the hierarchy of authorities in New York City.
How does a bill become a law? Will it need other law to go with it and sustain it? (Will there be rules, will there be court cases? What else does one consider?)
We will examine a series of New York City laws and break them up into discrete components, examining the purpose of each, and discussing how those that passed fared when they interacted with other laws.
Lesson: “writing a law” can’t be done well in isolation. Not only do you need to work out details with yourself/your “client,” you need to know the larger legal landscape the bill will be operating within. You’d read the relevant court cases, statutes, news stories, and legislative history.
Class 3: Bill writing 1
We will collectively write a bill at a whiteboard. This could be about half the two-hour class.
You will write a very short local law, starting from a blank page, by yourself. You will come to class prepared with three bill ideas.
Lobbying and external drafters: firm names, people, process, the job, how it fits into lawmaking.
Tools of the trade: model legislation, law from other states and jurisdictions, and more. There are actually quite a lot of resources here.
Homework: think again about the kinds of bills you want to write. Research with your new resources. Come prepared for more bill writing next time. (Your resources are now: legal concepts and history, reading passed bills, drafting manuals, industry tools like model legislation.)
Class 4: Bill writing 2
We will spend most of the class doing bill writing exercises.
Be chill and have snacks.
Exam review and questions.
Class 5: Exam, wind-down discussion
Exam: basic vocabulary words, hierarchy of authorities, etc. Ask broader questions about writing law, things to take into consideration. A few specific questions like “Who is the Dean of American Legislative Drafting?” It will ask about legislative bill drafting manuals, and their place in the system. And more!
Ending discussion // where to go from here // how to go deeper // refer people to resources for federal/state, for rules, and more.